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Taking a closer look at the Marriage Tribunal

The idea of a Church court can seem rather intimidating, if not frightening, yet the existence of the Tribunal is both good and necessary. On these two pages, the One Voice has utilized resources provided by the diocese Tribunal to compile some frequently asked questions and commonly-used terms to help allay any reservations the faithful may have regarding the Tribunal and annulments.


If I'm divorced but not remarried, can I receive communion?

Divorced people do not need to refrain from participation in the sacraments. As long as a divorced person does not remarry during the lifetime of the former spouse, or they receive a Church declaration of nullity (annulment), he or she may continue to receive the other sacraments and participate in the full life of the Church.

What is a Declaration of Nullity?

The correct term for an "annulment" is a "declaration of nullity." A declaration of nullity states that the union has been thoroughly investigated and found to be lacking in an indissoluble bond of marriage from its beginning.

Why does this process even exist?

Jesus taught that marriage is indissoluble. Once people get married, they are married until one of them dies, even if they someday separate, justifiably or otherwise. Since they remain married for life, if one of them goes on to live in the manner of husband and wife with someone else, then he or she is living in an ongoing state of adultery. A married person’s vocation is to lifelong fidelity to the marital covenant, even when (in cases of abandonment or necessary separation) that means living as though celibate. Christ knew our human nature and He knew that this was a hard teaching.

With that being said, there are certain marriages that are invalid from the start. They have the outward appearance of a marriage and are usually entered into in good faith, but because of some impediment, some defect of consent, or some problem in the form of the marriage celebration, they are never truly marriages at all.

What is the first step in the process and what if I need help?

The first step in the process is to go to your pastor or to a Tribunal Advocate (directory found on Tribunal web site). He or she will help you determine whether or not you will need to begin the process, and will discuss the steps and either assign an advocate to your case or assist you personally.

How long does the process take?

Each case is different; therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that a case will be completed within a certain period of time. The general norm, however, is that formal cases take between 10 to 15 months to complete. Other types of documentary cases such as a Lack of Forms or Ligamens can take a few weeks.

Will this process affect the legitimacy of my children?

No. The legitimacy of children is determined by the laws of the state. Just as a divorce does not make children illegitimate, neither does an annulment granted by the Church.

I was never married in the Catholic Church: does my non-Catholic marriage need to be examined?

Yes. If a marriage was considered to be valid in civil law, no matter where the wedding was held, the Catholic Church also considers the marriage to be presumed valid until proven otherwise.

Is this process expensive?

The Diocese of Birmingham charges $200 to hear a formal case. However, no person will ever be refused for an inability to cover the costs of an annulment.

Does the Tribunal ever deny an annulment?

Yes. Some cases are given a negative decision; that is, the judge or judges are unable to prove that the marriage was an invalid union. There is an option of appealing the decision to either our Appellate Court in Mobile, Alabama or the Roman Rota, the Supreme Court of the Church.

Does my ex-spouse have to participate for an annulment to be granted?

No. However, the tribunal is required to inform the other spouse that a case has been initiated. The tribunal then offers that person the opportunity to participate if they desire.


Glossary of terms



A person appointed by a party and approved by the diocesan bishop to defend his or her point of view before the court. Each party before the court, whether as petitioner or respondent has a right to an advocate.


Properly called a Declaration of Nullity. A determination that a particular marriage was null, that is, did not give rise to a valid, binding matrimonial bond because of the presence of some factor recognized in law as preventing a valid bond. Essentially, the declaration of nullity is a statement that by entering the previous union the person did not establish an indissoluble marriage bond which could be broken only by death.

Defender of the bond

An officer of the court, man or woman with the proper credentials, appointed by the Bishop and assigned by the Judicial Vicar to defend the bond of marriage when its validity is contested, proposing and clarifing everything which can be reasonably adduced in favor of the validity of the marriage in question.


A relaxation of the law in a particular case.  For validity, it must be given by one who has the power to dispense or who has been delegated that power (the Bishop or the Vicar General).

Formal case

The ordinary process to determine marriage nullity that consists of a formal trial, where, a petition is presented to the court, grounds are determined, a judge or judges are empaneled, there is the intervention of a defender of the bond, evidence and testimony is submitted, and the judge makes a judgment and issues a decision in the form of a formal sentence.


The one who presents a libellus or petition to a court. In marriage cases, the petitioner presents a libellus or petition to ask the tribunal to begin a process of examining whether their marriage is null.


Similar to an advocate; however, a procurator can receive process and procedures and act in the name of and do the business of a party to a case. A procurator can legally bind a party to an action.


In a marriage case, it refers to the other party to the marriage, the validity of which is being impugned by the petitioner.